There are several things people like to tell me about my job. “I’ll bet you DREAM about books!” is one. I do not. Who has time to sleep?
Another is “It must be boring, getting so many of the same books over and over!” This is also not the case. Every book is unique, even if some are more obviously unique than others.
This one, for instance, has the look of a well-worn personal Bible: the leatherette cover is taped together in several places (with black electrical tape, so it doesn’t clash), pages well-thumbed, even torn at places…this book has been consulted, studied, and downright used.
It isn’t a Bible. It’s a paperbound catalog from about 1915, from the A.C.McClurg publishing concern. It seems to have come from the McClurg offices themselves, but even so, why was this catalog rebound and then used half to death? Or was every year’s catalog treated similarly, and this is the only one to survive? Enquiring minds would like to know, but anybody who used this book is long gone now.
Here is a Photography Annual, one of those books that was published before we had an Internet so professional photographers could show off their best work. I THINK someone has used it as a kind of scrapbook—not pasting things in, but just putting them in to keep them flat. Or were they simply really, really indiscriminate in their choice of bookmarks?
Here they’ve left a length of plaid cloth, here’s a menu from a Chicago fish restaurant I never heard of (the age of which can be gauged by the fact that the steak will cost you a whopping four dollars and fifty cents), here is an unused return envelope from some utility…it’s a picture into someone’s life, but I’m not sure what it shows. (By the way, I was very disappointed in you at this last Book Fair: we had a history of the Elks’ Memorial in which a previous owner had saved every cocktail napkin and several menus from every bar in every city they had ever attended an Elks Convention in…and nobody bought this. Have you NO eye for history?)
We have spoken before about inscriptions. There is no one left now who can explain this book with the inscription “Merry Christmas, 1949, and don’t forget the clams, Ooogie ooogie.” (Reminds me of the old joke about the young man who sent a telegram and closed it “With love from your oogie oogie oogie.” The telegraph clerk said “You can send one more word for the same price”, and the young man answered, “But wouldn’t FOUR oogies sound silly?” I didn’t say it was a funny joke; I said it was an OLD joke. Again, where’s your eye for history?)
We have the ongoing saga which no one was quite explained to me yet, of all the books which come in with their dust jackets upside-down. I still think some professor in the Midwest taught her students to do this so they’d know they’d read the book, but no one will confirm this for me. I’ve had people make EXCUSES for these donors: “It’s their book; why can’t they put the jacket back upside-down?” I’m not saying they shouldn’t; I just wonder why they do.
I have preserved the little Alcoholics Anonymous book with the picture inside of a decidedly tipsy woman waving a bottle in the air. Was this to remind her why she joined, or a gesture of farewell to the group? Sad story? Happy story? I may never sell this, but I MIGHT give it to someone who teaches Creative Writing, to use as a classroom prop.
So there are mysteries in all manner of books, not just the Agatha Christies and Raymond Chandlers. You can, of course, combine the two. I’d like to know more about Aurelia. For one thing, I didn’t know anyone was still named Aurelia. For another, she was a reader of determination and clear opinions, an asset to any book group.
Inside a fairly modern paperback mystery, on the inside of the cover where she had enough room for her full contempt, she has written “Vina, The Last Chapter of this book is WRONG. Her boyfriend did it. Aurelia.”
Some people would call that a spoiler, but I may just take that one home and see if I agree. Anyway, like all the other books, it’s unique.